Digital Cell Animation – LO 4

Or, while the idea of literally drawing and painting every cell sounds pretty badass…oh dear God, just no.

Juuuuust no. Not even I am that crazy.

So back in the day, 2D animation was all done by hand. All of it. Drawn on paper, inked on cellulose cel, painted up and then layered onto a bunch of other cels. Made for some absolutely amazing films, but holy shit was that ever a terrifying amount of work.

(Plus I am a person of the digital age, the thought of no undo button makes my teeth itch)

And then 1989 and The Little Mermaid came along, bringing with it the marvel that was the CAPS system. While this new system of digital cell and ink was only used in a few experimental shots – most notably the end scene where Eric’s ship sails away,  the next Disney film, The Rescuers Down Under was the first animated feature film to be 100% digital.

(and while I might have my issues with this film, digital animation is responsible for neither the appalling excuses for Australian accents, nor the ridiculous choice to put a golden eagle instead of a wedge tailed eagle – you know, the eagle actually native to Australia?)

Ahem. It’s only been, oh, my entire life and this still annoys me apparently.

While it lead the way though, Disney was not the only animation company to make the jump from traditional to digital. Other studios followed suit with Princess Mononoke (1997) beginning to make use of the digital cel method.


However what really spurred the leap forward into digital cel animation wasn’t any of these big budget films, but rather a little program that showed up around 1996 called Futuresplash Animator. It’s entirely possible that most people have never heard of this as it was pretty much immediately snatched up by a much larger company and turned into Macromedia Flash.

Oh Flash. As much as I malign you now, there’s a hell of a possibility that few of us would be doing this if not for you.The rise of Flash was nothing short of meteoric and suddenly it was possible for anyone with either a comparatively small amount of cash, or a link to a handy file sharing site (or a kind friend with a disk and a serial code *cough*) to make animations for the web.

I mean, it’s pretty much some kind of animation blasphemy to mention Studio Ghibli and say, Charlie the Unicorn or the infamous Badger Badger video, but well, while if you were ask us who our animation idols are *now* we’d give you the standard list of industry gods,  back then were were probably far more likely to tell you that it was Neil and Emmy Cicierega of Potter Puppet Pals fame.

Okay, so maybe that was just me. But the point still stands. Cel animation had entered the hands of the internet masses and it wasn’t going to relinquish it any time soon. I don’t think we’d have the sheer quantity of indie films and animators if it hadn’t been released into the wild as it was.

(Just a selection of the Flash work that actually inspired me to get into animation)

Of course, Flash wasn’t just used to make strange films about green people with salad tongs for fingers, it was also at the time the program du jour for a lot of companies producing legitimate films and cartoons who would not have otherwise been able to afford the more elaborate proprietary systems used by the large mega companies.

These days thankfully, Flash is not the only, nor the best normal-person accessible animation package on the market. Both TVPaint (used to create The Song of the Sea, and by former Disney animator Aaron Blaise) and Toon Boom.

Toon Boom it seems is far the more popular package – it’s been used to create all of Disney’s post 2004 2D film work including the Princess and the Frog, and well – basically it seems, if it was done in 2D during the early 00’s to now, the odds are it was done in ToonBoom. There’s a full list down below, and it’s kind of mindboggling. And the best bit – I can get the more basic version for 20 bucks a month (cheap at the price to not have to use flash!)

All this of course relates to the industry as it currently stands insofar as the advent of digital technology has, instead of killing the 2D industry, saved its bacon. Sure, we’re not getting as many gorgeously drawn films as we once did but the quantity of amazing tv shows, and content produced not by studios but by normal people with a computer, tablet and good software kind of makes up for that. It means there’s going to be more animation and stories out there, not less, and there is no way that that is a bad thing.

Links that more or less back up my waffling:










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